SpaceShipTwo event notes – early edition

I’m sitting in the Javits Center in New York right now, having attended the Virgin Galactic press conference earlier this morning (right now over 10,000 students are here from around the city attending the education day of Wired NextFest, which runs through this weekend.) At the press conference Richard Branson and other Virgin Galactic officials unveiled a conceptual full-scale model of the cabin of SpaceShipTwo. Here’s a first cut of the notes from the press conference:

  • SS2 will be about 60 feet (18.3 meters) long, twice the length of SpaceShipOne. While an animation of the flight shown at the press conference features a design of SS2, company officials stressed those are still notional at best, since Scaled Composites is keeping the actual SS2 design under tight wraps until they’re ready to show it off, in about a year.
  • The cabin features three rows of two seats each, plus seats at the front for the two pilots. The seats are in an upright position for launch, but retract after the powered portion of the flight to allow more room in the cabin during zero-g, and also to put them in the proper position for reentry.
  • Virgin is no longer planning to tether their passengers to their seats during the zero-g phase of the flight. Instead, the flight profile is such that there should be plenty of time (around 40 seconds) from the end of zero-g to the onset of high-g deceleration during reentry to allow people to get back to their seats. And even if they can’t, officials said passengers could simply lie on the floor and be able to safely withstand the peak g forces.
  • The animation showed passengers wearing pressure suits and helmets throughout the flight, but Will Whitehorn said they have not yet made a decision about whether passengers will wear them. they are looking at several pressure suit designs that would apparently be less cumbersome than traditional suits but protect passengers in the event of cabin decompression.
  • Virgin estimates that about 80-85% of people who are interested in flying will be healthy enough to do so; they are starting to work through the health issues for the Founders.
  • There was a big emphasis on how environmentally friendly the system would be (part of a broader initiative by the Virgin Group); they noted that the CO2 emissions from a SS2 flight would be the equivalent of those associated with a single business-class passenger going from New York to London on Virgin Atlantic.
  • Branson and Whitehorn also emphasized that they see SS2 as a stepping stone to an orbital vehicle, SpaceShipThree, that would be able to carry passengers but also satellites and scientific payloads at a fraction of the cost of existing vehicles.
  • SS2 will be powered by a hybrid motor, but of a somewhat different design than that used by SS1; the company declined to offer details.
  • Current plans call for SS2 and White Knight 2 carrier aircraft to be unveiled in late 2007, with flight tests to begin at the end of 2007 or early 2008.
  • There’s a new version of the Virgin Galactic web site (very Flash-heavy) now available with some of the new details.

I will have some more details later today or tonight, along with some photos I took of the event, as well as, most likely, a summary article in Monday’s edition of The Space Review.

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